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Licorice Pizza - Movie Review

Dreamy, Nostalgic, Surprising and Warm
Paul Thomas Anderson takes us to Los Angeles in the 1970's
Paul Thomas Anderson takes us to Los Angeles in the 1970's(MGM)
Published: Feb. 26, 2022 at 2:29 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2022 at 10:25 AM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) -

Licorice Pizza – Movie Review

Paul Thomas Anderson is an acquired taste. His films are long, immersive, highly detailed experiences. For me, they have been hit or miss. I really liked Phantom Thread, but not so much The Master or There Will Be Blood. I feel a bit guilty about the latter, so I may revisit that film. However, I am on board for his latest, Licorice Pizza, which was recently nominated for three Oscars (picture, screenplay and director). It has already won best picture awards from other organizations, including the venerable National Board of Review.

Set in 1973 Los Angeles, the film is a rambling adventure centered around the unlikely and complicated friendship/relationship between teenage child star Gary, played by Cooper Hoffman (the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman) in his remarkable film debut and twenty-something Alana, played by Alana Haim in an equally startling film debut. He is a brash, confident fifteen-year-old child actor, who looks more like 20 and acts like thirty and she is an intelligent, strong young woman, who is still trying to find out what she wants to do with her life, when they meet on picture day at his high school. She is the photographer’s assistant and he boldly starts up a conversation with her that begins their tumultuous friendship—a friendship that Gary wishes were less platonic than it is. But it remains chaste as Alana at 25 knows it cannot advance to romance, even though she is inexorably drawn to him.

There have been critics of the film that find their relationship creepy, bordering on illegal, and who also claim they don’t believe she would ever be interested in him, even as a friend. I soundly disagree with this argument. He is incredibly charismatic and mature for his age, and again their relationship remains non-sexual. Furthermore Anderson, who also wrote the script, takes his time developing the friendship, and the two actors have tremendous chemistry. Alana isn’t pathetic or a loser for hanging out with a kid, rather she finds him interesting, encouraging, and a conduit to adventures. She is and remains her own person.

Much of the charm of this film comes from its naturalness. Actors don’t wear make-up to cover up youthful acne and Alana’s film family is played by her actual family. This documentary feel is enhanced by the incredible cinematography and production design that captures both the fun and the seedy ambition of Hollywood in the seventies. Throw in a terrific soundtrack, with some arcane but recognizable choices, that enhance Gary and Alana’s misadventures and growing pains and you have a mood, a feeling that grows on the viewer.

Even Sean Penn as an arrogant, drunken William Holden (Jack Holden in the film) and Bradley Cooper as Hollywood gigolo-hair dresser turned movie producer Jon Peters don’t disrupt the authenticity but do add to the mayhem and joy of the story. Detractors and naysayers remark that the film has no plot, and that it just goes from one storyline/adventure to the next. To that, I say, “I hear you,” but for me that is the very reason I am so charmed by this film. It feels like youth, it feels like discovery, and like youth is unpredictable and exhilarating.

Interesting to note, the PTA films I have liked I watched in a movie theater on the big screen and the ones I didn’t care for I originally watched at home on the small screen. So, it might be on me. See Licorice Pizza on the big screen if you can.

FYI: Licorice Pizza was the name of the chain of record stores in Southern California in the 1970′s, even though we never see one of these stores in the film.

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